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Every now and then I get a hit from someone looking for the Korean Stamp Album. I sent it to my ex, and she says it was stolen. So don't buy it if it comes up for sale somewhere.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Colonel Marcellus Pointer: An Unreconstructed Rebel

Marcellus Pointer (1841-1909) Updated and Rewritten: This version is more recent, more accurate, and better written than the South Reporter version.
The youngest of eight children, Marcellus Pointer was born on April 20,1841, in Caswell County, North Carolina, across the Virginia state line from Halifax County, where his parents were born. His father, David Pointer, graduated from Transylvania University at Lexington, Kentucky, in March 1822, where he studied medicine. Dr. Pointer then married Obedience E. Torian in 1824. Sometime in 1843, the Pointer family moved to Holly Springs, Mississippi.

A picture of Marcellus, taken in February 1860 shows him as clean-shaven, hair over his ears, and seemingly supremely self-confident. When Mississippi seceded from the Union, he joined what later became known as Old Company B of the 9th Mississippi Infantry on March 27, 1861. His one year enlistment ran out just before the Battle of Shiloh, where the 9th was a part of Chalmers’ Brigade. Pointer’s widow, Willie Mayer Pointer, filed a pension claim in Bowie County, Texas in 1909, the year he died. In it she states that he was not home ten days before joining Joseph Wheeler’s staff.

The biggest problem one encounters when trying to place Pointer at Shiloh is the lack of any official roster that carries his name later than March 31, 1862. If Willie is to be believed, he should have joined Wheeler in time to be at Shiloh (April 6-7, 1862). The problem is that she stated that Pointer joined the 12th Alabama Cavalry, a unit that was not created as a regiment until 1864.

Exactly when Pointer became Wheeler’s aide-de-camp is uncertain, but originally he was a volunteer, with the rank of lieutenant. Wheeler commanded the 19th Alabama Infantry at Shiloh, only becoming a cavalry commander on July 20, 1862. (Lt. Pointer’s older brother, Monroe, of Co L, 154th Tennessee Inf., was slightly wounded in the neck at Shiloh, and his name appears in contemporary accounts of casualties reported in Memphis newspapers.) Col. Wheeler was in Holly Springs, Mississippi, on July 20, 1862. One source even dates Pointer's assignment to Wheeler's staff to that very day. Wheeler is thought by some Pointer descendants to have been a close friend of the Alabama Pointers, Samuel C. Pointer of Lawrence County being Dr. Pointer's brother.

The first mention of Lieutenant Pointer in the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion (or OR as it is usually called) comes in Wheeler’s report of the 1862 Kentucky Campaign. Wheeler’s command made several charges during the Battle of Perryville, then covered Bragg’s retreat back into Tennessee. The General wrote that Lieutenant Pointer of his staff was severely wounded in one such action on the 19th of October, 1862. However, Wheeler’s dates were not always believed by the editors of the OR, for they inserted what they believed to be the correct dates for some of his rearguard actions during the period in question.

The skirmish at Wild Cat probably took place on the 18th, and to complicate matters, Wheeler wrote his report on October 30, 1862, the same day he wrote a letter to Dr. Pointer in Holly Springs. In it he informed Pointer’s father that the young aide was recovering from a wound received at Little Rock Castle River on the 14th. However, in his report Wheeler mentions that Lieutenant Pointer went out with him on the evening of the 19th and was severely wounded (at Wild Cat). He went on to say that Pointer distinguished himself in all the cavalry charges, both at Munfordville and Perryville. The same publication that dates Lieutenant Pointer's commission to July 20, 1862, also gives the date of his wound as October 18 of that year. Since Wheeler went out with the men who fought the action on the 19th at Wild Cat, I accept his official report over the letter to Dr. Pointer. Wheeler is much more likely to have been accurate in his official report if he witnessed the action as a participant. It may also be significant that the 1891 US government publication states that Pointer was relieved on the day after Wheeler wrote both the report and the letter to Dr. Pointer--October 31, 1862. If the wound was more serious than Wheeler made it out to be in the letter, then his young aide may have been sent home to recover. His record indicates he didn't accept his elevation in rank to first lieutenant until June 13, 1863, which might be some indication of how long he took to recover.

Marcellus Pointer’s military records from the National Archives are not very helpful in many respects. They mention none of the five times he is known to have been wounded, but at least Wheeler makes note of two of them in his reports. As to the question of Pointer’s rank, again the records in his file seem murky, and even contradictory. On the 29th of January, 1863, Wheeler applied to have Pointer awarded the official rank of 1st lieutenant, ADC, saying he had already been serving on his staff for some months. He wrote that Pointer was from the 10th Mississippi. (That may be a slip of the pen, for there is no surviving record of Pointer ever being in the 10th.) The bump to 1st lieutenant came through on April 30, and was back-dated to January 29. As mentioned, he accepted the new rank in June.

"Leaving Home" by Gilbert Gaul

Lieutenant Pointer is mentioned several times in the Official Records, usually in the capacity of delivering dispatches or verbal instructions from Wheeler to his subordinates. He is at Shelbyville in June 1863, doing just that. Toward the end of the month, Confederate General Polk was forced to abandon a strong fortified position that covered the only bridge over the Duck River-- a bridge that was in front of Shelbyville. On the 27th, Wheeler’s cavalry, about 1000 strong, were ordered to defend the bridge, while Nathan Bedford Forrest’s cavalry were en route to join them. Forrest feared he would be trapped on the enemy side of the river, while Polk's wagon train was still within easy reach of any Yankee cavalry that could get past Wheeler's little band. This small command was somehow expected to hold off a Union force of some 13,000 in a driving rain that soaked both men and weapons, rendering the Confederate paper cartridges useless.

As Wheeler’s line fell back, two hundred of his men were captured, while another two hundred were forced out of the fight. Wheeler ordered charge after charge, until at last, the wagons were safely across. He was just about to have the bridge burned, when some members of Forrest's staff rode up and begged Wheeler to hold until their column could arrive. Wheeler asked for volunteers, and with 400 of them, he charged into the oncoming federal attack.

Out of ammunition, with Yankees everywhere yelling to shoot Wheeler down, his escort put their bodies between him and the enemy bullets. A small band of no more than 50 or 60 men were with him when daylight finally ran out, and Forrest failed to show. (He had turned aside and taken a different road, away from the fight). In the desperate hand-to-hand fight, the bridge became blocked by a disabled wagon, or, as some accounts have it, Wheeler's only remaining artillery piece. Wheeler gave the order for every man to look out for himself, then he and his escort, including Pointer, were forced to jump a 15-foot embankment into the Duck River. With bullets flying all around them, only thirteen escaped, three of them badly wounded. (I have yet to come across any direct reference to Pointer being wounded in this action, but it seems reasonable to suppose that he was. If so, that would be his second. The third was probably at Maryville, as will be seen shortly. The remaining two have better documentation, and will also be covered in chronological order.)

Returning to the bridge at Shelbyville, the account given in one New York Times obit differs from that told by John W. DuBose, a Rebel trooper. DuBose recognized one man making the jump with Wheeler--Colonel Martin. An interesting detail DuBose leaves out was that Wheeler’s horse was hit by an artillery round, the ball passing through its body. In the NYT obit, Colonel John Bishop relayed that detail, as told to him by Wheeler. DuBose would have surely mentioned it, had he witnessed the General losing a horse in the jump. He does say that Wheeler was unhorsed during the jump, but managed to swim the horse to shore by clinging to the saddle. Wheeler may have lost a horse earlier in the day, or Bishop may have been mistaken. At any rate, both Wheeler and Pointer escaped that day by making the jump, as did eleven others. The 1st Confederate Cavalry, who charged with Wheeler to cover his escape, were not so lucky. They lost heavily. Hundreds were captured and sent to Camp Douglas, Illinois. The Tullahoma Campaign turned out to be one end run after another, forcing Bragg’s army to retreat to Chattanooga, leaving its sick and wounded behind.

Later that year, when Wheeler was operating with Longstreet near Knoxville, Pointer is said by Wheeler to have gone ahead of Dibrell’s regiment in a charge against the 11th Kentucky Cavalry. Inside the cabinet of the 1860 photo of Pointer was a small clipping from an unknown newspaper which had copied the Macon Confederate. The skirmish mentioned by Wheeler is elaborated somewhat, saying the young lieutenant dashed all by himself into the enemy pickets and chased them to their camp, wheeled to the left, and made his way back to the staff. This action took place at Maryville, Tennessee, on November 14, 1863.

Again, the incident at Maryville is complicated by varying versions. Wheeler and Pointer were in front of their column, scouting the way, according to accounts in Pointer’s obits in the New York Times, published on July 11 and 12, 1909. Parties of dismounted Union troopers were tearing up a railroad track when Dibrell’s column attacked them, capturing 151 (all but two). The two escapees, both officers, made their way to the safety of a Union Cavalry regiment, which surprised the pursuing Wheeler and his young aide. The versions differ as to details, but agree that Marcellus Pointer boldly shot his way out of the trap, allowing Wheeler to escape as well. Wheeler was amazed that Pointer was unhurt, and credited him with killing two Yankees in the breakout, while the old newspaper account found with the 1860 tintype said that Pointer’s “beautiful mare received a ball in the nostril.” If this is the same incident Wheeler was referring to in a letter found at Pointer's bedside in the Bowery hotel where he died, Lieutenant Pointer was wounded in the shoulder that day. Wheeler earlier had written that his young aide was wounded a total of five times during the war.

Another incident recorded in the clipping tells of a time “just before” the battle of Chickamauga. Wheeler says something about it in his report of what the OR calls “Wheeler and Roddey’s raid.” The raid into Middle Tennessee was after Chickamauga, but it must be the same incident. Pointer charged a Yankee color guard, who fled, refusing to heed the order to surrender. Wheeler’s young aide shot once, breaking the man’s arm, but still he fled. The second shot hit him in the body, knocking him off his horse. Pointer “wrenched the flag from the dying grasp...” of the Federal trooper and brought it back to his commander. Wheeler’s version is identical, only briefer than that in the clipping.

Ellen Virginia Saunders, daughter of Colonel James Saunders, the Alabama genealogist, wrote of two Confederate officers named Pointer. The Saunders home was near Courtland, Lawrence County, and Wheeler’s staff stayed there in October 1863. Ellen’s entries were later published in Confederate Veteran Magazine. On the 11th, she wrote, “Major Pointer gave me a five shooter.” On the 17th, writing of a concert in Courtland the night before, “Sister Prue went with Captain Wade, and I with Lieutenant Pointer.” Marcellus had a first cousin, Thomas S. Pointer of Co I, 16th Alabama Infantry. He may have been the Lieutenant Pointer Ellen referred to, or she may simply have been confused as to Marcellus Pointer’s rank. Thomas ought to have been with his regiment, but the 16th Alabama may have been in nearby Huntsville at the time.

The obits in the New York Times previously mentioned reported that Wheeler made Pointer a "brevet" colonel on the battlefield and presented him with a gold medal for his actions at Maryville. Nonetheless, at that time in the war the Confederacy did not give out brevet ranks, nor could it afford to bestow medals.  Also, there is one card in Pointer's file on which was written a note referring to him as major of some unspecified cavalry battalion, but it is only a note, not a complete sentence. One researcher confidently assured me that this was an application for that rank, not a statement that he actually held it. It's also possible Miss Saunders may have heard Pointer being called both major and lieutenant. I can even envisage a scenario in which the staff are teasing Lieutenant Pointer by calling him Major Pointer. In the murky world of Civil War rank and protocol, one could be considered to have a higher rank by one’s own state, and at the same time have a lower, official rank, conferred by the Confederate government at Richmond. It should also be noted that an IG inspection report of the cavalry in South Carolina in 1865 bemoaned the fact that promotions were being handed out by division and corps level commanders, who then had to wait months for Richmond's approval. This may explain why the term "brevet" is so often used, when the Confederate government actually did not officially brevet anyone during most of the war.

New documents have come to light since I originally posted this, and they are from the National Archives. According to them, Wheeler recommended Pointer for the rank of lieutenant colonel of the 12th Alabama on January 12, 1864. The confirmation then came through on January 29. Then, on April 1, 1865, Wheeler recommended Pointer to be full colonel of the same regiment. The General must have believed that Pointer would be able to fill the vacancy, but as of April 15, he wrote that Colonel Pointer was still disabled from wounds. Either he was wounded one more time after Williston, or he hadn't recovered from that wound when the war ended. 

The end of December 1863 witnessed what may have been the narrowest escape of Marcellus Pointer’s entire Civil War career. Wheeler with about 1200 men attacked a large train of supply wagons near the Hiawassee River bridge at Charleston, Tennessee. The enemy were ready for the raiders. Outnumbering the Confederates by five to one, they attacked them from both sides of the river, driving their rearguard back in confusion. Wheeler, with his staff and escort company, were said to have counterattacked into the melee, then found themselves completely encircled. However, we can thank Colonel Bishop for an interesting detail that sheds light on what happened next.

Bishop quoted Wheeler as saying he mistook a body of cavalry moving at a gallop for his own men. This was undoubtedly the 150 or so Union troopers who crossed from the other side of the river to join in a counterattack. Wheeler sent Pointer to tell them to slow down and walk their horses, and the true nature of who they were caught Wheeler and his staff totally by surprise. The suddenness of the Union cavalry dash managed to break off and isolate the Confederate left, which a reporter who witnessed the affair assumed was Wheeler's rearguard. Wheeler, Pointer and Kelly, along with the rest of the staff and escort company were caught up in this mad rush and effectively surrounded. Wheeler wrote that Pointer had been trying to rally the squadron that was in full flight, when two Union troopers who were well out in front of the charge confronted the young lieutenant.

Meanwhile, men were trampled underfoot while trying to escape, and even the horse-holders in the rear bolted and ran, rather than wait for the oncoming attackers to hit them. The Federals took between 120 and 130 prisoners that day, including 5 officers, but Wheeler refused every demand to surrender, eventually fighting his way out. Dodson’s 1899 work, The Campaigns of Wheeler and His Cavalry, says that although Wheeler managed to escape, Lieutenant Pointer was forced to surrender. One of Pointer’s obituaries paraphrases a letter from Wheeler to Dr. Pointer, in which the general says the doctor’s son saved his life that day. Dodson quotes a letter to a Georgia newspaper, signed by someone calling himself, “Vidi,” which I take to mean he was an eye witness. Pointer was halted by the two Yankees in the lead, one with a saber about to sever his head, while the other held a pistol on him. They demanded his surrender, and Pointer said “Yes.” Then they demanded his weapons. Pointer reached to his side for his pistol, drew and fired, killing the man with the saber. The other returned fire, then fled himself, while Pointer rode away as fast as his horse could carry him. The bullet fired by the pistol wielding man to whom Pointer had surrendered passed through his overcoat just above the breast. The shooter was trying to get away, too, thus his Parthian shot only wounded Pointer. The lucky lieutenant quickly dashed into some nearby woods, bullets whizzing past him, Federals yelling at him to halt.

"Vidi" wrote that Wheeler would stop to return fire, then gallop off again, until he at last escaped the trap as well. His actual words were "check his pursuers," which to me means turning to fire at them. It's difficult for this writer to imagine Wheeler stopping to return fire unless he is also giving Pointer and others covering fire. This was not open field running, and since the account says Pointer dashed into some nearby woods, no doubt Wheeler did the same.

 As mentioned above, the 12th Alabama was to be up-graded to a full regiment in  January of 1864. At any rate, no record of a Major Pointer exists for Wheeler's Cavalry. Wheeler goes by strict protocol in his reports, never referring to Marcellus as other than Lieutenant Pointer, until his promotion to lieutenant colonel of the 12th Alabama Cavalry. Still officially listed as Lieutenant Pointer, he was on leave as of January 31, 1864. Most likely he was at home recovering from his wound at Charleston, Tennessee. The actual upgrade of the 12th Alabama Battalion to a full regiment took place after June 1, 1864, probably in July. For a treatment of this issue, see the posts in this blog that relate to the Morning Report of November 15, 1864, and the capture of A.J. Ingram.

Ingram was captured during Wheeler's August-September 1864 raid into Middle Tennessee at about the time of the fall of Atlanta. Pointer went along on this raid and was in Alabama with the 12th Cavalry in November when it began the march to join Wheeler's Corps in Georgia. Official word had been received from the War Department in Richmond, naming the field grade officers as Colonel Warren S. Reese, Lt. Colonel Marcellus Pointer, and Major A.J. Ingram. Reese had left from Gasden, Alabama, around November 1 to gather up the absentees, and Ingram was mending his broken leg in Federal captivity, leaving Pointer in command.

Finally, one has to look to the Campaign of the Carolinas to find the next mention of Colonel Pointer of the 12th Alabama Cavalry Regiment, Hagan's Brigade, Allen's Division. At Christmas of 1864, Pointer reported to General R.H. Anderson, who refers to "Colonel Pointer's regiment." I take that phrase to mean that Marcellus was in command of the regiment, perhaps because Colonel Reese had not yet rejoined. Anderson wrote that he had been promised 200 cavalry, but only Colonel Pointer's regiment had reported in. That implies that the 12th Alabama Cavalry had less than 200 men with it, probably no more than the 150 who started the march from Blount County in November. One possibility is that Reese and the men he gathered up remained in Alabama.

Anderson went on to write that the regiment had no wagons to carry its supplies, and that some of its horses had died from eating bad rice. In January 1865, Anderson received a report from Colonel Pointer that the enemy had halted at a certain place. The last mention of Pointer is in Wheeler's final report, dated April 15, 1865. He states that Colonel Pointer is still recovering from wounds. We know from Dodson's book that this last wound was received on February 9, 1865, near Aiken, South Carolina. Pointer was said to have been shot in the side while at Wheeler's side. It was apparently severe enough to get the young colonel sent home. The citation also says "Promoted," probably meaning in April. If so, this could mean that his tintype portraits in the uniform of a full colonel were made after the war, perhaps in Dallas.

Photos of Pointer taken late in the war or possibly after the surrender, show him with three stars on his collar, indicating he had been promoted to full colonel. Willie's pension application states her husband made lieutenant colonel on April 1, 1865. As previously stated, I now know this was the date of his promotion to full colonel. This brings up the possibility that Colonel Pointer may have been wounded after Williston, South Carolina.

Pointer’s own records state that he surrendered at Holly Springs, Mississippi, on April 23rd, 1865, and was paroled on the 9th of July. Family legend says he refused to take the oath to the US, and it is known that he traveled abroad, perhaps not returning until late 1867. The NYT obit places him in Mexico after the war, where he was working as a railroad [civil?] engineer and also financing railroads. The date of his marriage in 1865 and the birth of his first child, in 1868, are far enough apart to suggest that he left his bride behind when he traveled to Mexico. Contemporary news accounts, as well as the OR, show that many ex-Confederates went into exile there and hired out to the French puppet government. A letter written in September 1867 by Pointer's brother Samuel is interesting for its silence. Samuel, living in Arkansas, asks his parents what his other brothers are doing, but leaves out Marcellus. The natural inference is that Marcellus was not in Mississippi, or anywhere that his parents would have had easily available news of him.

On October 19th, 1865, Marcellus Pointer married Willie Anna Mayer, daughter of Adrian Mayer, who owned a good deal more slaves in 1860 than the Pointers did. A possible photo of her exists, but the identification is tentative at best. One post-war photo of the colonel exists, showing him rather gaunt, as if taken not long after the war, and it may well have been taken at the time of his wedding. Two of the couple’s three daughters appear in tintypes, two of Mary C., and one of Lillian. No known photos of Susie exist. Pointer's obits mention a daughter Sadie, who lived in Ardmore, Oklahoma, in 1909. She had written the colonel asking for money, but he was too broke to help out. One article says his effects were sent to her. I believe she and Susie are one and the same and that Sadie is most likely a nickname. Susie married Jesse D. Burr in Ennis, Texas in 1910 and he died in 1915. Sometime after the 1920 census Willie Pointer and her two widowed daughters moved to Los Angeles, California, where they are all buried.

Like so many, the Pointers and Martha Wynne, Marcellus’ sister, along with her three daughters, moved to Dallas around 1874, Marcellus by May of that year. (Martha’s husband Joel remained in Arkansas with his daughter Margaret by his second marriage. In January 1869, Margaret had married her first cousin, Captain Jesse W. Wynne, of the 3rd Texas Cavalry.) The 1870 census shows Marcellus at his father’s home in Como, Mississippi, while Willie and their daughters were in Holly Springs at her parents’ home. As early as 1875-76, Marcellus was involved with the Dallas & Wichita Railroad.

See Gunfight in Dallas.

NB: A newly discovered letter from Wheeler states that Pointer's rank as 1st lieutenant, ADC, dated to August 1862. He even agreed with Willie Pointer's statement in her pension application that Marcellus served his 12 month enlistment in the 9th Miss. Inf., then joined Wheeler less than ten days later. Records show the recommendation for appointment to lieutenant colonel was made January 29, 1864, and to full colonel on April 1, 1865. The last date also agrees with Willie's pension application.

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